Cape Town - Wilmot James has emerged as a possible third contender in the battle for the position of DA parliamentary leader after Lindiwe Mazibuko’s shock exit last week.
Meanwhile, the fallout over the party’s fumbled handling of the move continued, with a meeting of its federal executive on Friday discussing a public statement by its communications director, Gavin Davis, in which he accused Mazibuko of being complicit in an attack on party leader Helen Zille penned by Davis’s predecessor, Gareth van Onselen.
This was the culmination of a week of tit-for-tat accusations which included Zille changing her tune on Mazibuko’s decision to take a break from Parliament to further her studies at Harvard, from initially congratulating her to claiming the Harvard option had been Mazibuko’s “plan B” because she knew she would lose the caucus election.
James, the DA’s federal chairman, said before the meeting that he would be leading the charge in dealing with Davis’s response to Van Onselen, which he called “completely out of line”. “He’s a party official, talking about politicians and hanging out the DA’s laundry in public,” James said.
He believed Zille had responded under pressure, but said he could attest to the fact that Harvard had always been Mazibuko’s first choice.
The row has caused deep bitterness among the DA leaders, according to senior members of the party.
“All the wasps will be in the jar,” said one, shortly before a function at the Waterfront on Wednesday, attended by Zille, Mazibuko, James and Mmusi Maimane, whom Zille is said to favour to replace Mazibuko.
Maimane and Mazibuko were spotted in earnest conversation over coffee before the event, the launch of former party leader Tony Leon’s new book, and Maimane said later people assumed the two were enemies but, “she and I get along just fine”. Davis said there was “a great deal of support in the federal executive and the party generally” for his rebuttal of Van Onselen.
He stuck to his guns on the claim Van Onselen must have consulted Mazibuko before writing his column.
Maimane, James and DA deputy federal chair Makashule Gana have emerged as the likely candidates for parliamentary leader in a race that has put the spotlight back on Zille’s insistence on staying the course as Western Cape premier while remaining party leader, instead of going to Parliament.
Zille’s name is not on the list of the party’s representatives for the National Assembly. This means she cannot stand for parliamentary leader at this stage.
A number of senior DA members have said the party leader should be in Parliament to represent it there and Zille is likely to face increasing pressure to say when she will step down as leader so the positions can be united.
Should Zille step down, this would overcome the tension between the leader and the caucus, which last year erupted in a row over draft employment equity legislation.
James said he had told Zille he was not willing to stand for parliamentary leader. Since his decision not to stand he had had “feelers put out to me” and he would not “reject them out of hand”.
Maimane and Gana, neither of whom have served in Parliament before, are also playing their cards close to their chest.
“If members come to me to say I should stand, I will listen,” said Gana yesterday.
Support for Maimane in the caucus was untested, James said
. Maimane said while he didn’t want to suggest he would stand, experience was just one aspect of leadership.
“I think leadership is a function of a team effort, and experience is but one criteria.”